The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Sunday, August 16, 2009

"District 9" and UHC

I saw some articles questioning the fact that a corporation is the "bad guy" in the terrific new SF film, "District 9". While that is becoming a bit of a cliche, the real problem is that every other institution has had its day as well. Evil megalomaniacs? Check. Foreign governments? Check. Evil religious groups (Christian and non-Christian)? Check. Our own government? Check. Special interest groups? Militias? Check and check. The problem is one of, literally, devising a group with the power and will to expand its power, and the ruthlessness to consider human lives as expendable tokens.

As far back as "Rollerball" or "The President's Analyst" (a forgotten but insanely entertaining James Coburn vehicle) corporations were presented as risks to personal freedom. More powerful than many governments, immortal, given many of the rights of living human beings, multinational, seemingly beyond the law (note the confusion about prosecuting Blackwater operatives for murder...what exactly is the jurisdiction?), tending to reward those who increase cash flow with no direct commensurate reward for decency or compassion...I would consider them perfect villains, because they represent a genuine threat.

Money is perhaps the most powerful form of power. It can not only buy military, political or religious influence, but it can be passed down from generation to generation. You can't just "give" someone intellectual heft, but you can sure as hell leave them a half billion dollars. The potential for corporations, these immortal and amoral entities, to supersede nations, churches or any other institutions as the most powerful institutions on the planet is, well, almost upon us as we speak.

Governments crave power, and will collect all the power to themselves that they can. But it seems to me that governments are more responsive to the needs of the public, are more transparent in power structure than corporations OF COMPARABLE SIZE. I remember the arrogance of Bell Telephone when it was a monopoly, and the way it fought to keep from being broken up, swearing up and down and sideways that such actions would increase consumer costs, decrease service and stifle innovation (sound familiar?). From my perspective, that was all bullshit, nothing more than the predictable behavior of an entity engaged in self-protection.

Barnes' Law--once any organization reaches the size that the members can no longer identify each other by sight (about five to seven thousand, I'd reckon) the organization takes on a "group mind", and no longer represents the morality or ethics of any individuals within it. Instead, it cares for its own survival, and rewards anyone or anything that will increase its profits or power, even to the detriment of the health of its individual members.

This is not to say that governments are the answer to everything--clearly they fall into the same trap, and it is good to have something large enough to balance them. But I see a power struggle between nations and corporations, with individual human beings caught right in the middle. On the asinine edges of the battle are those who believe either Private Industry or Governments are better at everything. Most of us are somewhere in-between.

I see a perfect example of this in the health care debate. Clearly, we can point to government drones and bureaucrats who seem to think that Washington can or should handle everything. But is that the way power flows? It seems to me that people finish government tenure...and then go to the private sector for greater rewards. For the average person, working in the private sector at high pay seems to have a hell of a lot more allure than working in a government bureaucracy. That's the flow...government to private. They'll go from private to government for a few years, then pop back over and reap the rewards of all those contacts. This looks rather worrisome to me.

It is clear and obvious what the rewards of convincing people to side with Big Insurance are for the people at the top. Those multi-multi million dollar salaries and bonuses strike me as a lot more concrete than the vague "power urge" of a bureaucrat, the kind of reward that is more warping and distorting because it is so tangible. Government folks are pictured as living the "high life" if they take a corporate jet to some exotic destination. But corporate folks can OWN those damned jets, as well as gigantic estates and humongous trust funds. Yeah, there are people who would rather be a governor than a billionaire...but I wonder how many? What percentage? I think that this is a question that has to be addressed, because it influences the way we are living our lives.

Make no mistake: there are good reasons to oppose Universal Health Care. There are sane and intelligent concerns on either side of the debate. But that doesn't mean that people can't be induced to vote against their own best interests, or that greedy, power-hungry people on either side won't exploit fears to force things in their direction.

I see people arguing for private armies, private education, private health care...as being better than the products and services that a government can provide. All right...but I have the horrible feeling that they actually believe that the ethics of an average corporation are higher than the ethics of the American government. Which confuses me. I mean, if they were to say that the ethics and "morals" of the average corporation was higher than the ethics and morals of the average government of comparable size...I might accept that as a possibility.

But so many of these people believe that the American Constitution is the greatest document for organizing human beings in the history of the planet, creating something better than any other government. I come pretty close to agreeing--I certainly think it's better than anything else I know of. So let me get this right: unless I'm misunderstanding drastically, these same people believe that the average corporation can be trusted more than the greatest government in the history of the world? Why, exactly?

What corporation has a charter one would place beside the Bill of Rights or the Constitution? You show me that company, and I will agree that it can be trusted equally. But if people are just people, and the average person who works for the government is about the same as the average person who works for a random company (and if they aren't , your reasoning and documentation, please), then surely the difference is the organizing structure: the goals, the intent, the responsiveness to the public, and so forth. The degree to which the organization is organized around service as opposed to naked short-term self-interest, for instance.

So I don't get it: how can one take the position that America is better than any other country, but less trustworthy than the average corporation? What exactly would create such a phenomenon? How in the hell does a company organized around the profit motive AUTOMATICALLY become less venal and more trustworthy than a government?

Because that's what it feels like I'm hearing. I understand why companies, in their amoebic pre-conscious way, would find it valuable for people to believe that. But what exactly would make such a thing true? And why would the average citizen believe it?

If we're the best, as a country, then wouldn't only the very very BEST corporations be our equal? I would think I'd need to believe that the AVERAGE insurance company was better, to make it reasonable ignore broad statistics about life expectancy, infant mortality, per capita expenditures or percentage of GNP.

##

I was in the spa of my housing complex yesterday, and there were two soccer coaches over from England, who are staying with my neighbors. And as I have for the last few years, I asked them the following questions, which I try very hard to ask in a non-leading way:

1) How do you like the English health care system?

2) What do you think of the American health care debate?

And as I've heard virtually every time, they love their system, and they think we're nuts for not going in that direction. And I've gotten virtually the same response from (an admittedly sketchy sampling) of people from Canada, Germany, France...I've lost track. One of the least convincing arguments I've heard against it is: "if the Canadian system is so great, why do Canadians come to the U.S. for health care."

Wow! That sounds impressive until I ask HOW MANY? What percentage? And so far, in every case, they have no data. Purely anecdotal. Hell, I have a good friend who traveled to Canada to get her eye surgery done. Thousands of Americans travel to Mexico for health care and prescriptions. For any of these statistics to make sense, we'd have to know whether more Canadians come to America than Americans go to Canada. Or Mexico. Otherwise, it's just nonsense. Saying that America has the best health care because (I've heard) we have 24 out of the top 25 hospitals in the world is a goodie...until you ask why this doesn't seem to impact our health statistics. The most obvious answer is: we have the best health care if you are rich, or have a "Cadillac" health plan. But the average person? You're screwed. And it is reasonable (even if inaccurate) for those in the bottom .75 of the country in this regard to wonder if those in the top .25 give a shit, or are just protecting their privilege.

A while back I asked if anyone had statistics on wealth inequality and crime, worldwide and historically. I can't quite crunch that data, but instinct tells me that there is probably a range of inequality that is healthy, and another that is not. In other words, a culture in which "everyone has the same" has fantastic implicit violence, because people just aren't the same, whether in innate capacity, willingness to work hard long hours, opportunity, or whatever. You need to hammer down the best and brightest to get such an effect...and then you have to ask who is wielding the hammer. "All animals are equal, some are just more equal than others", right?

So that end of the scale is a pipe dream, horrifically oppressive. But the other end of the scale will be as well. The natural tendency for human greed, hierarchicalism, solipsism, greed and dishonesty, taking root most strongly in that old devil "10% asshole" factor, means that given a chance, the wealthy and powerful will collect everything on their side, and promote the idea that God wants it that way (and that you too can have the private island, if you just support their world view!). Then breed amongst themselves, build walls to keep the common folks (and people who look different) out, and consider themselves "middle class" because everyone they know has MORE than twenty million dollars or whatever. Yuck.

So my guess would be that there is a range that is healthy. Maybe an executive that earns ten times as much as a worker on the floor. Or twenty. But not 100 or 1000. Or a top 10% that has 100 times as much as the bottom. But not a thousand. I don't know. But my guess is that it would be possible to run stats showing what levels of wealth and power disparity are healthy for a culture or company, and which ones are not.

It is my understanding (and I admittedly have been unable, as to this moment, to verify this to my satisfaction) that poverty has no direct correlation to violent crime, but that disparities of wealth and power DO. Now, if you believe basically in "nature" over "nurture" your attitude is going to be: the poor are more violent (or the violent are more poverty-stricken) because of their innate tendencies. That providing them with more services is, in essence, trying to bribe criminals not to commit crimes.

Hell, people have pretty much said exactly that on this blog, and it shouldn't take two guesses to figure out which side of the political spectrum they come from.

I prefer the idea that anyone will break the law, given the right set of circumstances. That has certainly been my experience observing human beings. And further more, that a huge reason most people obey the law is that they believe it is fair. That they obey social rules because they believe that it is in their own interest. But a child raised without parental warmth is in real danger of becoming a sociopath. Take a child and raise them in a culture that apparently doesn't care, that is dog-eat-dog, that says money and power are your only bulwarks against oppression and death...and a lot (but not all) of the people who under other circumstances would have played by society's rules will take the position that society's rules are a con job, and the REAL rules are the law of the jungle. One of the most Right Wing, moralistic, conservative Christian guys I know told me that if we were both in a life-raft out of food he would kill and eat me. I believe him. Unless you believe the rules work for you, you won't follow them. And I see a huge disconnect here, people who refuse to believe that race, ethnicity or station of birth can make such a gigantic difference in your results and efforts that a reasonable person would be tempted to conclude that there IS no social contract.

The people who cannot see this, in my opinion, harbor a secret (and sometimes not-so-secret) belief that white people born into black lives would do better than blacks have done. Fine. I know they're out there, I've met too damned many of them, and don't respect the ones who hide that belief behind lies and circumlocution.

All that to say that it would seem to me that there is a range of inequality that is healthy for a country, and one that is not. That those at the top can afford not to care because they can protect themselves from many of the consequences with private guards and high walls. That they will ally themselves with the bigoted, the fearful and the greedy to promote the policies that will enable them to keep and increase that power.

NOT that there are not good, smart and reasonable people who also agree with some of those policies. Or that the Left doesn't have equal numbers of assholes. They're just assholes of a different stripe, that's all. They're the ones who say that everything should be redistributed TOTALLY, that the rich are only rich because they are thieves, and that no one's morality should be judged by anyone else. The person who thinks Government should decide everything has exactly the same dysfunction as the one who thinks Government should decide nothing. Most of us in-between are just trying to figure out what percentages work best.

As I've said before, when asked: "where does it end? Government making cars? Bread? Television sets..? How do you decide?" My answer is simple. Show me the results. Show me the country where the government does these things, and show me the results. Looks to me like that doesn't work, anywhere.

Universal Medical Care, on the other hand, meets the standards I've set for determining actions across the board. Infant mortality? Life expectancy? Cost? Customer satisfaction? Health of the economy (let's see...America is currently the largest debtor nation in the history of mankind. And the greatest creditor nations? Have Universal Health Care). I see no broad indicators that don't swing that way. And while there are certainly millions of individuals who love or rely upon their current health care and have reasonable fears for what happens if that changes, I also see that the insurance companies are fighting to keep what I would consider obscene profits, that would be better invested in creating health for the nation. No, I don't think that I get a damned thing from a health company executive getting hundreds of millions of dollars. I completely understand why that executive would lie, steal, and cheat to create a coalition of citizens who will protect his wealth, however.

Based on the results I see, the ONLY group that seems to me to have a really good reason to worry are those who are wealthy enough to buy the best care, and will see their taxes rise to pay for health care for those less successful or fortunate. Oh...and a small percentage who have very specialized situations (X disease combined with Y financial situation) that means that any change in their health options might well be for the worse. Just about everyone else, the vast majority of the population, is I think, however well-intended or considered, wrong about the results of the change. That within a generation after that change has happened, we'll be spending less per capita and by percentage of GNP and getting better health results. That further, those health results will have the effect of reinforcing the social contract, which will have an effect of reducing crime, violence, and the prison population.

But that is because I believe that human beings have infinite potential, that there is no basic difference between racial groups, and that all living things attempt to move away from pain and toward pleasure. Those with other beliefs will come to other conclusions.

31 comments:

Steve Perry said...

Go back to C.M. Kornbluth and Fred Pohl's series, staring in the early 1950's, The Space Merchants. People have always looked askance at big business, and rightly so -- it has always been a mix of good and evil. Folks who think America's best days were when the robber barons and oil kings ran things forget about the sixteen-hour-work days full of ten-year-olds slaving away in the factories and mines.

Laissez-faire capitalists have done a lot of good. They have also screwed the little folks high, wide, and repeatedly.

Not that big government has been much better, but there are some bright spots there, as well.

I think Obama is one. I don't think George Bush was.

Marty S said...

From my point of view in most respects there is not a lot of difference between big government and big corporations. They are both made up of people and some in both are good and bad. My sister has contacted a number of individuals in the government trying to get my niece her SS disability. Some of them gave lip service and had a why are you bothering me attitude. Some were very sympathetic and tried to help taking her phone number calling her back with information and generally doing what they could. On the other side last year my wife was hospitalized with pneumonia. The insurance company declined to pay for her last day in the hospital, because their standard for blood O2 was different from my doctor's and she didn't qualify by the insurance company's standard. My doctor wrote a letter of appeal explaining his rational. The insurance company denied the appeal. A good example of private health insurance rationing. But then I contacted my insurance company and explained my reasons for feeling they should pay the bill. A very nice person agreed with me and the insurance company ended up paying the whole bill. It all comes down to people at the end.

Anonymous said...

Robber barons are unappealing people, but at least they don't manage to produce the sort of truly colossal disasters that governments have done and will, I suspect, soon do again.

I see the U.S. Constitution (with its rather important addendum, the Bill of Rights) as defining what might be almost called an anti-government. Most governments define themselves by their prerogatives, and dole out privileges to their subjects. The point of the U.S. Constitution is that it explicitly defines, in great detail, not only what the structure of the government will be, but what it will not be allowed to control. Both the First and the Second Amendments of the U.S. Constitution are radical assertions of the rights of individual, private citizens to act autonomously: in the case of the First, to say anything about anything or anybody without anything but the most limited restrictions on speech; in the case of the Second, to be individual bearers of potentially lethal force.

To the degree that corporations become powerful enough to override those rights, I think most people would agree with you that they'd become baneful. The problem is that, as far as I know, there simply is no case in human history of a corporation managing to grow to the magnitude of, say, Stalin's U.S.S.R. (which killed perhaps 60 million people in the 20th century) -- let alone to the scale of the current U.S. government, which spends several trillion dollars every year and has just made the casual decision to have a one-year deficit of over $1T.

What makes the U.S. government tolerable is that it still does have a Constitution that it sort of obeys (whether the post-New Deal interpretation of the Commerce Clause as governing darn near everything is really Constitutional would be an interesting, but rather long argument).

What terrifies me is the great likelihood that, sometime between now and 2016, the endless spending that has sustained the U.S. government for almost three decades now will simply have to stop. At that point, I think we'll all stop daydreaming about evil corporations and get to have a ringside view of what happens when a government abruptly loses its ability to spend money, and thus both its authority and its institutional sanity.


--Erich Schwarz

Marty S said...

On the racism subject. There were two incidents this weekend and the reactions to them were very different. A Muslim celebrity from India who nobody knew was detained at the airport and the cries of racism went up. I read that people in India were burning American flags over the incident. Meanwhile in New Jersey Bob Dylan was stopped and questioned by police and when he couldn't produce ID accompanied back to where he could produce ID. This was greeted with a Ha_Ha attitude because he was white, but probably would have been labeled another case of racial profiling if he weren't white.

Anonymous said...

On health care: I think there are more reasons to worry than the ones you mention.

One worry is innovation. Advocates of UHC assume that the rest of the world is paying its equal share of the costs of medical innovation, and in particular of developing new drugs. However, most of the profits that allow drug companies to develop new treatments for human disease are made in the U.S. market, because that's about the only market left on earth where the pharmaceutical companies are allowed to make any profits at all. All of the health-care systems that you're describing are free-riding on pharmaceutical and biomedical innovations that are disproportionately paid for and developed by the high-end U.S. market. "Reform" the U.S. market into something like Great Britain's, and you are very likely to slow the development of new drugs and treatments for medicine substantially.

That would be OK if we had already discovered most of the worthwhile biomedicine that there was to be discovered -- but in my opinion, we're not even close to that. We have only in the last few decades developed the technology to do such things as identify genes modulating lifespan or do genome-wide scans for cancer-causing mutations. I think there's a lot of innovation left to be done. At present, the lion's share of such innovation is done in the U.S. For my own sake and for the sake of anybody else who cares about the future, I'd like that innovation to continue.


--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

Another point you don't mention is that there is a difference between being against Obamacare (the current, unwieldly, 1,000+ page bill being considered by Congress) and being against any reform of the current system whatsoever. The false assumption being made by Obamacare's supporters is that those of us criticising it are too dense to see that the current system has problems, or to propose constructive alternatives of our own.

As it happens, two recent essays by politically progressive businessmen have described what such alternatives might look like: "Health Care Reform" and "How American Health Care Killed My Father".


--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

"I've heard virtually every time [that the British] love their system, and they think we're nuts for not going in that direction."

OK, that's an anecdote. Fair enough. So here are mine.

I've tried the same experiment, both by talking with British people and by spending a week travelling around the U.K.

My impressions:

1. The one young guy I talked to -- somebody who's decades away from having to worry about being put on a ten-years-or-never waitlist for medical procedures because he's too old -- was in favor of Britain's NHS. Even he seemed compelled to add the caveat, "Yes, it has problems, but..."

2. An older gentleman I talked to who had watched a world-famous biologist get treated by the NHS was pretty negative about it: he'd watched the biologist get, in his opinion, mildly brain-damaged from shoddy treatment -- despite this biologist having had access to Addenbrooke's, the hospital directly affiliated with the medical school of Cambridge University.

3. During my week in the U.K., I came across one unhappy news story in the local newspaper of Cambridge describing the rate of hospital-induced infections with Clostridium difficile in (again!) Addenbrooke's. The American equivalent of this would be to have a "c diff" infestation in Massachussetts General Hospital, associated with Harvard Medical School.

(By the way, "c diff" appears to have become absolutely routine slang in the U.K. It's as if they've gotten used to hospital-caused life-threatening infections as some sort of basic fact of life, like their weather.)

4. Riding the train through southern Scotland -- a die-hard Labour stronghold -- I found myself staring at an advertisement for "Yes, you can escape the NHS and get private insurance! Here's how." The audience for this advertisement did not consist of Dick Cheney supporters, suggesting a rather bipartisan discontent with NHS quality.

5. While reading the Sunday newspapers, I came across a long, unhappy article about how "the NHS killed my mother" over 60 days in the hospital. This wasn't published in the right-wing Telegraph or even the determinedly middle-of-the-road Times, but in the Guardian -- i.e., the London newspaper whose writers think that our Nation is nice but a bit too right-wing.

So when a British columnist wrote that American criticisms of the NHS were annoying but partially correct, I wasn't too surprised.


--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

" My answer is simple. Show me the results."

I couldn't agree more. So I went looking for those results:

"In their 2006 book, 'The Business of Health,' economists Robert L. Ohsfeldt and John E. Schneider set out to determine where the U.S. would rank in life span among developed nations if homicides and accidents are factored out. Their answer? First place.

"That discovery indicates our health care system is doing a poor job of preventing shootouts and drunk driving but a good job of healing the sick. All those universal-care systems in Canada and Europe may sound like Health Heaven, but they fall short of our model when it comes to combating life-threatening diseases."


Again, for those who missed or skipped over my earlier comments: this doesn't mean that I think our current system can't or shouldn't be improved. It does mean that the reforms proposed here or here make far more sense to me than Obamacare, predicated as the latter is on the idea that nationalizing 16% of the entire U.S. economy will somehow keep all of American medical care's good qualities while eliminating all of its bad ones.


--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

"The problem is that, as far as I know, there simply is no case in human history of a corporation managing to grow to the magnitude of, say, Stalin's U.S.S.R. (which killed perhaps 60 million people in the 20th century)"

I'd argue the wars of the 20th and 21st Centuries, summed, represent corporate slaughter comparable to Communist government atrocities. While Nazism and Japanese militarism were the political spearheads of WW2, the economic impetus was provided by corporations such as Krupp (which used concentration camp labor) and Mitsubishi, as well as pro-Nazi American businesses. The latter stages of the Cold War were arguably motivated less by genuine American fear of Soviet expansionism, and more by corporate desire to reap mega-fortunes from Arms Race profits. That is, the lives of BILLIONS were placed in jeopardy by the rapaciousness of Lockheed, Boeing and company. During the same period and continuing currently, multinationals flooded the Developing World with conventional arms, sparking and sustaining crime, war and genocide, killing untold millions.

Ethiopian_Infidel

Ethereal Highway said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"I'd argue the wars of the 20th and 21st Centuries, summed, represent corporate slaughter comparable to Communist government atrocities."

The Soviet Union killed 62 million human beings.

Maoist China killed 35 million human beings.

Added together, that's a cool 97 million. Add in the relatively bush-league butcheries of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge (2.0 million dead), North Vietnam (1.7 million dead), or North Korea (a mere 1.2 million dead), and you push the score well over 100 million.

Those were not done by corporations or American cold warriors, but by left-wing, communitarian, centralized governments. No corporation could do that sort of mass butchery, even if its CEO wanted to. And I doubt very much that any corporate leader wanted or encouraged it.

Given the historical record, collectivist government scares me more than corporations do: there's a factual historical track record of utter butchery for the former that I just find hard to discount.

As Steve would say, "show me the results".


--Erich Schwarz

Ethereal Highway said...

There is one very big difference between corporations and government in this debate, and it seems to have gone overlooked. Corporations cannot make laws. I like the emerging idea of the non-profit, non-government health care co-ops to provide competition for big insurance and am interested to see where the discussion goes. There is talk of the government backing such a thing without assuming control. This sounds like it could fall under the category of a GSE like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It will be interesting to see if anyone brings that up.

Dan Moran said...

Erich, don't know about the second "progressive businesman" you linked in, but the first is the CEO of Whole Foods and is a hard right conservative. His customers, who are progressives for the most part, are boycotting him now --

Here's the Facebook link to the boycott of Whole Foods.

John Mackey's editorial in the Wall Street Journal is going to end up costing his company millions of dollars. I stopped shopping there some while back, but most of his customers didn't realize he was a conservative. They do now.

Dan Moran said...

Here's a link to find a Trader Joe's in your neighborhood: http://www.traderjoes.com/locations.asp

Here's a link to find a farmer's market in your area: http://www.localharvest.org/

Most boycotts are a waste of time. Whole Foods probably isn't. The people who shopped there were overwhelmingly, like 10:1, liberal.

Now that they know their money is going to support an anti-union, anti-healthcare reform agenda, they have a great opportunity to hit back where it hurts.

I wish I could boycott the place, but I stopped shopping there (and at Walmart) years ago. I shop at Costco, mostly.

Pagan Topologist said...

The US medical people I know, including my wife and my brother-in-law, use the "slang" term "c diff" also. It is not just in England.

There is a problem when drug companies use aggressive marketing to push expensive new drugs over older, better ones that are out of patent.

David Bellamy

Anonymous said...

"Erich, don't know about the second 'progressive businesman' you linked in, but the first is the CEO of Whole Foods and is a hard right conservative."

So much for arguing against people on the basis of the logical structure or factual content of their ideas. (Or, was there supposed to be a rebuttal of Mackey's essay in there, somewhere?)

And so much for judging people by their concrete achievements or actions. Whole Foods got strong brand-loyalty from the American left -- as you say, a 10:1 proportion of their customers were self-identified progressives -- because it actually managed to do something that had been previously considered impossible: sell large amounts of high-quality food while treating their workers decently. One might think that Mackey's having done that might count as a progressive economic achievement. But I guess his current thoughtcrime is doubleplusungood.


--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

"The US medical people I know, including my wife and my brother-in-law, use the 'slang' term 'c diff' also. It is not just in England."

I don't doubt that they do-- but I found it jarring, in Britain, to see this term not merely used as specialized jargon by trained physicians and medical staff, but as a colloquial slang-word routinely used by ordinary people to describe their worst worries about the NHS. What was striking was how commonly it was being used.

Maybe they're just more clued in there, but a year after my U.K. trip, I still haven't noticed "c diff" here, back among the immiserated masses of palest America.


--Erich Schwarz

Ashe Hunt said...

I've recently become very disillusioned with this country. Learning that the Federal Reserve and IRS are NOT government institutions but PRIVATE was rather devastating among many other things. Here is an interview with Aaron Russo exposing some actually obvious truths: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGAaPjqdbgQ. There are clips of the interview on youtube if you do not have the time to sit and watch the whole interview. Also, I'd really like your opinion of this film, Zeitgeist: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-594683847743189197. I know you are really busy but one day I'd really like to hear your opinion on the information in this film.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me the best people to compare the US and UK systems of healthcare provision would be people with several decades experience of both. As it happens I know several women like this, female American fans who moved to the UK 20-25 years ago, one of whom is my wife. Every single one of them prefers the UK system, for all its faults. Anecdotal data, I know, but there you go.

- Rob Hansen

Mike Ralls said...

>Money is perhaps the most powerful form of power. It can not only buy military, political or religious influence, but it can be passed down from generation to generation.<

It can also be stolen, unlike some other forms of power. Someone can destroy your intelligence (by causing you brain damage) but they can't steal your smarts and give them to themselves. Likewise, the government can redistribute wealth you created, but it can't take half of the time you've spent on the stair machine and give it to someone who eats Doritos all day, or transfer half of your deep meaningful relationships to a misanthrope (realistically speaking).

That is a serious weakness of money when talking about how powerful it is compared to other forms of power.

As Kipling put it;

_'Gold is for the mistress--silver for the maid--
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.'_
'Good!' said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
'But Iron--Cold Iron--is master of them all.'

Pagan Topologist said...

"I've recently become very disillusioned with this country. Learning that the Federal Reserve and IRS are NOT government institutions but PRIVATE was rather devastating among many other things."

The Federal Reserve, yes. But the IRS is indeed a government institution, not private.

Anonymous said...

"Those were not done by corporations or American cold warriors, but by left-wing, communitarian, centralized governments. No corporation could do that sort of mass butchery, even if its CEO wanted to.'

Given the atrocities perpetrated by the Dutch East India Company (a major participant in the Atlantic Slave Trade), the corporate interests that turned the Belgian Congo into a veritable Gulag, and the collusion of I.G. Farben, Krupp et al with the Nazis in orchestrating the Holocaust, I'd argue that CEO's would kill as thoroughly as Politburo Chairmen, if the means and profitability presented themselves. The demonstrably greater propensity of State apparatchiks for systematic mass murder in pursuing individual projects stems from two sources:

1. Greater power and resources. Where corporations at best can organize a few million hirelings, states can command upwards to a billion followers. States can also concentrate far greater power at the helm. Few corporate charters elect a Leninist Vanguard from among the Board, or invest the CEO with Fuhrerprincip or God-King status.

2. Motive. Corporate interests are always profit-motivated, whereas States frequently galvanize the masses with religious and quesi-religious patriotic and ideological mania. Greed is impersonal, whereas religious or ideological conviction are intensely personal, and thus capable of inspiring psychotic hatreds.

Ethiopian_Infidel

Dan Moran said...

And so much for judging people by their concrete achievements or actions.

Come on, Erich. You don't use that metric. How much bitching have you done over what you think Obama wants to do?

Or, was there supposed to be a rebuttal of Mackey's essay in there, somewhere?

Nope. I've read a bunch of conservative essays on the subject of health care in recent months. Mackey's isn't unusual or interesting, and I'm more than content to let people read him and decide for themselves.

If enough of his customers get the opportunity to read him, it'll turn out to be an awfully expensive piece of political speech for him. But the Constitution, which conservatives have rediscovered now that Bush is no longer in office, gives him the right to make expensive political speeches, so it's all good from where I stand.

Anonymous said...

"How much bitching have you done over what you think Obama wants to do?"

None.

I've had a lot of extensive criticisms, backed up by a fair number of hyperlinks, of the substantive content of Obama's health-care proposals currently making their way through the Congress. But I haven't been interested in making personal criticisms of Obama himself, and to the best of my knowledge, I haven't.

Moreover, I don't understand how this point was supposed to help your argument at all. Are you conceding that your characterizing Mackey as being a pure conservative is inaccurate and easily refuted by looking at Mackey's objective record of achievement? If you aren't, then would you care to explain what parts of Mackey's past behavior and achievements are more important than his having founded Whole Foods and run it as a model workplace?

Otherwise, why bother with the tu quoque?


"Nope. I've read a bunch of conservative essays on the subject of health care in recent months. Mackey's isn't unusual or interesting..."

And as we all know, the measure of whether something is logically cogent or factually correct is whether it's emotionally exciting. Call it the "Chris Matthews" algorithm: if it makes your leg tingle, it must be good!


--Erich Schwarz

Dan Moran said...

But I haven't been interested in making personal criticisms of Obama himself, and to the best of my knowledge, I haven't.

Don't read your own posts, I take it. I'd have to dig back to the one about the birther nonsense and your comments about Obama's character, but they're in there.

Moreover, I don't understand how this point was supposed to help your argument at all.

I wasn't making one. I was just making sure any liberals on this blog knew what money spent at Whole Foods was supporting.

Are you conceding

Yep. You've nailed me in one. I let the dogs out.

conceding that your characterizing Mackey as being a pure conservative is inaccurate and easily refuted by looking at Mackey's objective record of achievement?

Oh, never mind. I did let the dogs out, but the part where Mackey isn't a conservative, nope.

If you aren't, then would you care to explain what parts of Mackey's past behavior and achievements are more important than his having founded Whole Foods and run it as a model workplace?

Whole Foods is a model workplace only to another conservative such as yourself. They're virulently anti-union and their employees, shocker, make less than employees of other grocery store chains.

I don't do business with my political enemies if I can help it. Mackey is self-identified as one of those, both in his business conduct and his own speech. Maybe you're not aware that Mackey's a conservative, but Mackey himself certainly is.

Anonymous said...

Dan:
I'm more of a liberal than a conservative -- but I followed your link and read the WSJ piece, and did not disagree with Mackey's main points. What is the issue worth boycotting the store?

-- Paul Worthington

Anonymous said...

"I'd have to dig back to the one about the birther nonsense and your comments about Obama's character, but they're in there."

My actual comments on the whole birther controversy are here.

I doubt anybody bothering to read what I wrote will agree with you that it even approaches the level of ad-hominem that I'm seeing from you -- but I'm happy to have my past writing speak for itself.


"Whole Foods is a model workplace only to another conservative such as yourself."

No, not just to me:

"Whole Foods Market has been included in Fortune magazine's annual list of the '100 Best Companies to Work For' every year since the list's inception in 1998, most recently at No. 5 in 2007."

As far as I can tell, John Mackey has managed to be pretty much the real-world model of a progressive businessman. His one great crime was, at last, to express publically a dissident thought -- that Obamacare might not be the summum bonum of political economics in 2009.

I'm not particularly worried about Mackey and his company, but I do have to wonder what political future the American Left has. It seems to have completely rejected anything resembling John Stuart Mill's idea that truth comes to real life only when freely debated, and to be heavily attached to high-school levels of mental and emotional function.

I guess this whole furor just proves that there are things you simply can't say, and that the modern Left is every bit as mentally straightjacketed as we tend to think our ancestors were.



--Erich Schwarz

Steven Barnes said...

"I guess this whole furor just proves that there are things you simply can't say, and that the modern Left is every bit as mentally straightjacketed as we tend to think our ancestors were."
More accurately, Erich, as the Left likes to think the modern Right is.

Or, in other words...human beings tend to be intellectually straight-jacketed, and more capable of seeing holes in 'the other guy's" arguments than their own.
##
As to that matter of homicides and accidents: Even if true, that would still lead to a fascinating question about why countries with UHC have fewer accidents, and fewer homicides, however. Stress, mental illness, and fatigue would contribute mightily to them, and all of these are things that health care can positively effect. Unless one says: "Americans are simply more homicidal and accident prone" I'm not sure what your point is.

Steven Barnes said...

Erich:
you say: "Advocates of UHC assume that the rest of the world is paying its equal share of the costs of medical innovation, and in particular of developing new drugs."
All advocates? Some? Who? Your source? I'm sure some do, but I've actually never heard this specific statement, whereas I have certainly heard the complaint that America is sharing a greater burden here. Disproportionate to our GNP? And I asked before: what is the percentage of, say, Nobel Prizes in biochemistry won by Americans adjusted for population and GNP, and how much better are we? And how much of this is exclusively public as opposed to private funding? You know my belief: fear of death is the single greatest motivator. Your position would seem to make sense if profit is the greatest motivator. Much to think of here, and I'm unaware of anyone who has crunched the data like this.

Steven Barnes said...

While I haven't read the book "Business of Health", reader comments and reviews bring up a couple of interesting points. One is that things like suicide, homicide obesity, smoking accidents and so forth skew the stats. Fair enough: we are left with the question of whether health care influences such things. I believe that counseling and a deeper social safety net do just that. Another is that blacks have it MUCH worse than whites. So it might be honest to say that health care in America works fine for white people who can afford it, not so well for Americans as a whole. I think it is fair for members of that group (whites who can afford it) to stump for their group--not so fair for them to say they're concerned for the general welfare.

Marty S said...

Steve: With respect to more accidents and homicides here, I suggest the following explanations. We have more accidents here, because we have poorer public transportation and hence grater dependence on the automobile. The murders are a function of our diversity, which is greater than most countries and to greater economic disparity. I am not convinced that UHC is going to make a huge difference in this. Better education and hope for better economic opportunity is more likely to reduce this problem. As an aside I really think Obama is off track in the education area. His emphasis on everybody getting a college degree is not going to help. What is needed is better job skills training through a non-college high school track and for adults who are having trouble finding employment due to lack of marketable skills.